I am a firm believer in providing “actionable” information in my health-related articles. The reader should be able to glean usable information from my articles and use this information to improve their health.That’s the practical day-to-day side of this endeavor and we believe it to be a noble effort. I hope to build Telos Labs into an online oasis of scientifically-sound information the reader can trust and put to immediate use in their daily lives.I want to share with you a deeper aspect to this effort and my personal motivation for studying and reporting on “alternative” approaches to health and wellness using herbs, vitamins and other dietary supplements. Bear with me as I may at times wax philosophical. Many years ago, when I was an impressionable kid in seventh grade, I read a book by Frank Herbert called Dune. (arguably one of the greatest science fiction stories ever written) One of the key elements of the book was a fictional natural substance call mélange or more commonly, “spice”. Spice had interesting properties… it increased mental awareness, it improved health and extended the human lifespan, and in larger doses allowed for “prescient” navigation of space. On the one hand, these were just the wild ramblings of an unknown science fiction writer. On the other hand, we were in the middle of the grandest achievement mankind had ever undertaken… space travel, and landing a man on the Moon. At that time we thought anything was possible and in 40 years we would be vacationing under domed cities on the Moon and Mars and our ships would be headed to the stars. Things… turned out differently. Instead, we got cell phones, debit cards and the Internet. (Is it just me or do the rest of you feel short-changed too?)Herbert and his crazy ideas, nothing like spice exists in the real world… or does it? Frank Herbert was, after all, a trained desert biologist, as well as a writer. Where did he get these peculiar ideas about spice and its health and longevity enhancing effects? What I mean to say is, if you discard the sci-fi aspect of the fictional “spice”, is there perhaps a natural substance that might prolong life, improve one’s health and protect or enhance one’s mental abilities? The question has been sleeping in the back of my mind ever since. Subtly, without me fully realizing it, this question has prompted me over the years to acquire a degree in botany, work as an analytical chemist, continually study medicinal herbs and supplements, own and operate a health food store with thousands of different herbs, vitamins and other natural remedies, and eventually start formulating my own dietary supplements.Along the way, I developed an idea that for many may seem, futile or even ridiculous. The idea is simply that we may be on the cusp, the very edge, of being able to dramatically slow down or reverse the ageing process. True human life-extension may be at our doorstep. In fact, I have come to fully believe that life-extension IS at our doorstep. The genie is out of the bottle and will not go back. I intend to participate in the life-extension effort. To put a finer point on it, I want to live for a very, very long time but to accomplish this will require a great deal of research and money to do the research. Perhaps the information we gather together and present in these articles will benefit the life-extension quest in some way and facilitate the realization of my dream of founding a research foundation focused on longevity research. There’s no shortage of naysayers and “nattering nabobs of negativism”* who openly snicker and ridicule the entire notion of human life-extension. Their protestations grow even more strident if one suggests some lowly plant or fungi may contain a substance capable of slowing the ageing process. They scoff because the science of human life-extension is in its infancy. Every new school of science faces this same gauntlet or derision and disbelief. It wasn’t too many decades ago that the esteemed field of Medical Science was practiced by barbers as a sideline business… “Get your leaches and blood-letting right here folks, along with a shave and haircut!” Remember the old-time barber pole? The ones with white backgrounds and red stripes… those red stripes symbolized a bleeding limb. The barbers of old became the well-trained doctors of today. I don’t let these skeptics slow me down one bit. They are simply adherents to an outdated paradigm of science and they fear the changes that are coming. Or, to quote that old rascal Agnew again, they’re just “an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals."Life-extension is a reality, a reality that’s here to stay. There is a growing mountain of data to support the notion of reversing the ageing process and while stem cell therapies, nanotechnology, cloning, artificial organs and other “hard-technology” approaches will play major roles, it’s clear that natural products will play a large role as well in this fledgling science. In fact, in his book Growing Young, Dr Marcus Gitterle lists several natural products which exhibit significant potential for slowing various aspects of the ageing process. These are:
I believe medicinal herbs and fungi will play significant roles in the life-extension saga. In fact, two of the substances listed above (Astragaloside IV and Resveratrol) are natural compounds directly extracted from plants. Might there be others to add to our growing anti-ageing medicine chest?Indeed there are. Both plants and fungi. Here are three examples from Asia and three from South America, with long histories of folk-usage for age-related health problems:Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum): These polypore mushrooms typically grow on decaying hardwoods, forming sometimes large and colorful fan-shaped fruiting bodies. Like many mushrooms, they’re found worldwide throughout the temperate and tropical zones. Across China and Asia, reishi mushrooms have been highly revered for centuries and one of the most valuable of all medicinal substances. It is referred to as the “Mushroom of Immortality and Spiritual Wonder” Some ancient texts refer to reishi as the “Emperor’s Medicine”. Numerous scientific studies prove reishi to be very beneficial in treating high blood pressure, inflammation, cancer, immune deficiency, infections, mental decline, depression, and a host of other ailments often associated with “normal” ageing. (1)On the subjective side, reishi users often report increased and sustained mental and physical energy, an improvement in mood, and heightened mental or “psychic” awareness. (Sounds a lot like Herbert’s “spice” doesn’t it?)I have used reishi, sometimes for months at a time, and I can attest to its restorative effects. The only downside, for me, is that reishi tends to thin the blood and reduce blood pressure. For most people this is usually a good thing. For me however, it lowers my blood pressure too much as my pressure is already at the lower end of the scale. I can also attest to reishi’s positive mental effects, though these seem somewhat dependent on the medium on which the reishi is grown and how it’s grown. Many reishi supplements simply use the dried mycelium (the thin web-work of mushroom filaments that permeate the dead wood or wood chips) as the mycelium can be produced in bulk more cheaply than from the external fruiting body. Personally I find the mycelium-derived reishi to have less of an effect on mood and mental function than products derived from the fruiting body. However, the measurable physiological effects appear the same.Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) is another, somewhat similar mushroom with purported life-extending effects. I wrote about some of the benefits of cordyceps in a previous NHI article and many of the effects parallel those of reishi. Cordyceps however has a pronounced positive effect on cardiac function in that it stimulates dilation of the aortic vessels, improving blood flow to the heart, and it seems especially beneficial for chronic lung ailments.(2) But there’s so much more… Dr Beth M. Ley, in her book Cordyceps: The Chinese Longevity Mushroom, writes that the use of Cordyceps “… dates back to 1700 BC. During China’s Chin Dynasty one emperor is said to have paid an ounce of gold for a three day supply of the precious fungus.” (3) She goes on to document the purported benefits of Cordyceps and backs up each claim with references to published scientific studies. Chapters detailing these benefits include:
Clearly, Cordyceps is worthy of consideration if you’re serious about adding years to your life and life to your years.Curiously, in its wild form the Cordyceps fungus is a parasite which infects the larval subterranean “worm” or larval stage of certain moths. The fungus spreads through the body of the larvae, consuming its tissues and eventually killing it. In the spring and summer when conditions are right, the mushroom produces a fruiting body in the form of a slender stalk which protrudes above the surface of the ground. These are harvested and dried to be used medicinally. (Commercially available Cordyceps nowadays uses laboratory-grown material devoid of any “worms”) (Tipping the hat to Frank Herbert once again, note that his fictional “spice” was a metabolic waste-product of giant subterranean worms living under the desert sands of Dune.) Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) is a little known Asian plant purported to have life-extending effects. A fairly recent introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine, it first was introduced about 20 years ago and has been available in this country for perhaps 10 years. A Chinese census revealed that many elderly people of the Guizhou Province were using the plant as a sort of “poor man’s ginseng”.Scientific analysis of the chemistry of jiagulan reveals the presence of various triterpene saponins, which are similar if not identical to some of the saponins found in Panax ginseng. Animal studies have shown jiaogulan extracts to lower blood pressure while at the same time stimulate more powerful contractions of the heart, thus improving cardiac output.(3)Cerebral ischemia (cell damage due to loss of blood flow) was reduced in both rabbits and rats given crude jiaogulan extract. This could certainly be of benefit to an elderly person with impaired circulation. (4) (5) In terms of improving immune function and preventing cancer, jiaogulan appears very promising. In vitro studies have shown inhibition of growth in several different cancer cell lines while studies on live mice with cancer showed their life-spans were increased when given jiaogulan extract. Other studies showed an anti-mutagenic effect in mice exposed to mutation-inducing chemicals. (6)Immune enhancement is the key to all these effects, as jiaogulan appears to significantly and broadly increase the activity of an animal’s immune system. A responsive and healthy immune system is strongly correlated with improved health and longevity. Leaving the mountains and deserts of Asia, let’s spin the globe and visit the mountains and jungles of South America…Maca root, a medicinal herb and daily food from the Peruvian Andes, which I wrote about previously (7), provides a host of well documented pro-longevity effects. Primary among these is restoration of libido and sexual performance, but there’s a lot more to maca that often goes unmentioned. Traditionally maca root is a life-sustaining food for the indigenous people of the Andes. They regard it as an essential for their survival in a harsh and challenging environment. Any herb that can help an individual survive high elevation, limited diet, and rigorous hard work is a likely candidate for helping the rest of us survive the challenges of old age. A recent study, published in 2009, concluded, “Randomized clinical trials have shown that maca has favorable effects on energy and mood, may decrease anxiety and improve sexual desire.” (8)My own experiences with maca confirm these and other adaptogenic and mood-elevating effects. I take it nearly every day.Suma (Pfaffia paniculata) is worth mentioning again as well. The common name is Para Todo, which means “for all things”. The range of reported and documented therapeutic effects attributable to suma is astonishing, and yet it goes unnoticed even among most herbalists. Studies have shown suma to be beneficial for:
All these conditions are found with increasing frequency as one ages so it’s no stretch to say suma is worthy of consideration in terms of its anti-ageing benefits. To quote from an excellent online review of suma’s properties, “In North American herbal medicine, suma root is used as an adaptogenic and regenerative tonic regulating many systems of the body; as an immunostimulant; to treat exhaustion and chronic fatigue, impotence, arthritis, anemia, diabetes, cancer, tumors, mononucleosis, high blood pressure, PMS, menopause, and hormonal disorders, and many types of stress. In herbal medicine in Ecuador today, suma is considered a tonic and "normalizer" for the cardiovascular system, the central nervous system, the reproductive system, and the digestive system; it is used to treat hormonal disorders, sexual dysfunction and sterility, arteriosclerosis, diabetes, circulatory and digestive disorders, rheumatism, and bronchitis.” (9) In my personal use of suma I have experienced significantly enhanced recovery from hard physical labor and noticeable increase in lean muscle mass, as I reported in a previous article. Suma is an herb I hold in very high esteem and a worthy addition to the medicine chest of any seeker of long life. (10) This short article is by no means the final word when it comes to natural products with life-extending properties. Ethno-botanists, (those who study the traditional uses of plants), are adding to our knowledge, and saving the knowledge of shamans, medicine men and folk-healers, across the world year after year. Their work is vitally important in light of diminishing rainforests, and other wild areas, and disappearing indigenous cultures across the world. If the plant or the knowledge of how to use it is lost, it’s lost for good. Perhaps somewhere out there in the Gobi Desert or in some isolated mountain valley in the Andes there grows some plant or mushroom with even more potent anti-ageing effects than the ones mentioned in this article. Perhaps the real-world equivalent to Frank Herbert’s “spice” is simply waiting to be found.Before using any herb, please research its properties carefully. Herbs can be powerful medicine. I advise anyone considering the use of a medicinal herb, mushroom or other natural product, to consult with their medical doctor or other qualified health care professional, before using the product.Best of Health,Jeff SargentTelos Labs, LLCwww.teloslaboratories.com_____________________________________________________________________* Quote by Spiro T. Agnew, September 11, 19701) MycoMedicinals: An Informational Treatise on Mushrooms by Paul Stamets. 2002, pages 25-28, 57-582) Medicinal Mushroom article at NHI, http://www.naturalhealthinformer.com/natural-health/immune-system/87-medicinal-mushrooms?showall=1 3) Cordyceps: The Chinese Longevity Mushroom, Beth M. Ley, PhD, 2002 by BL Publications4) Protective effect of gypenoside on acute incomplete cerebral ischemia in rabbits. Wang Z, et al. Chinese J Pharmacol Toxicol . 1992; 6(3):204–06. 5) Protective effect of gypenosides on DNA and RNA of rat neurons in cerebral ischemia-reperfusion injury. Qi G, Zhang L, Xie WL, Chen XY, Li JS. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2000;21(12):1193-1196.6) An excellent treatise on jiaogulan http://www.drugs.com/npp/jiaogulan.html#ixzz0t6u8WArQ7) Maca Root… An Herb for Grumpy Old Men (and Women) (2010 NHI article by Jeff Sargent) http://www.naturalhealthinformer.com/natural-health/sexual-a-hormonal-health/113-maca-root-an-herb-for-grumpy-old-men-and-women?showall=1 8) Lepidium meyenii (Maca): a plant from the highlands of Peru--from tradition to science. Gonzales GF, Gonzales C, Gonzales-Castaneda C, Forsch Komplementmed. 2009 Dec;16(6):373-80. Epub 2009 Dec 16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20090350 9) http://www.rain-tree.com/suma.htm (Database entry on Suma sourced from The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs, By Leslie Taylor, ND, Square One Publishers, Inc.) 10) The Energy Crisis, Part 2 (2010 NHI article by Jeff Sargent) http://www.naturalhealthinformer.com/component/content/article/99-the-energy-crisis-part-2?showall=1
Years ago in Analog Science Fiction Magazine, I read a short story, the name of which escapes me, about a company which had developed a therapy for rejuvenating the ageing human body to the point where an 80 year old person could turn back the clock and regain the body and mind of a 20 year old. The cost for the procedure? Everything. That is to say, whether you had $500 to your name or $500 million, the cost was the same. Everything you had. Then you could start over and re-build your financial life with the vigor of a 20 year old but the wisdom of an 80 year old. Very quickly this company became one of wealthiest on Earth, as there was no shortage of candidates willing to give up everything they had worked so hard for, in order to start over with a young healthy body. The drama in the story, of course, involved those who tried to “game the system” by hiding some of their accumulated wealth.Believe it or not, today we have something similar going on, involving a company with a proprietary natural product which research shows can significantly slow down or even reverse the ageing process, and, not surprisingly, it is VERY expensive. Expensive to the point where relatively few people can afford the product. Yet, those that CAN afford it are more than happy to spend many thousands of dollars at the chance of extending their lives.In short, this is wrong. If this substance were a synthetic product resulting from years of study and vast sums of money spent on research, it might be ethically justifiable. But that’s not the case. While the company which did the original research did spend a great deal of money isolating the compound and researching its effects, the compound itself is totally natural, and as such cannot be patented. Natural products are part of our collective endowment from Nature. They belong to everyone and no one. I want to show you how you can “game the system” and acquire the benefits of this substance, with a clear conscience, and at a substantially reduced price.But first, as Paul Harvey used to say, here’s “the rest of the story”…In the early 1990’s, a biotechnology company, Geron Corporation, began to investigate the genetic developmental aspects of cancer and they discovered activation of a gene sequence called the telomere was common to nearly all cancer cell types. Telomeres are repeating sequences of DNA found at the ends of all chromosomes. Their function is to stabilize the ends of the chromosome strands, much like the wrapping at the end of a shoelace. Each time a cell divides, the chromosomes divide and the telomere sequence is shortened. When the telomere eventually shortens to a certain length, other genes are activated which prevent further cell division. The cell then becomes senescent, and its days are numbered. This is the fundamental cause of ageing. There are other secondary causes of course such as accumulation of intracellular waste, tissue damage due to high blood sugar, DNA damage due to oxidation and mutagenic chemicals, and a host of others, but telomere shortening is the primary cause.In fact, some cells are immortal, such as cancer cells. Cancer cells divide without limit because they have managed to switch on an enzyme called telomerase, which triggers telomere regeneration. This is not to say that telomerase activation causes cancer, it’s just one aspect of the cancer process, as pointed out in the January 2002 issue of the journal, Nature. (1) This is the crux of Geron’s research… they seek to control cancer by controlling telomerase production. Along the way, they discovered a series of natural compounds, derived from the plant Astragalus membranaceus, which stimulated telomerase production in humans and other animals. It was found that by supplementing the diets of lab animals with these telomerase-activators, their telomere lengths were measurably increased, and the animals lived longer and healthier lives. Over time, Geron supposedly narrowed the most active substance down to one compound, which they labeled TA-65.Understandably, Geron has been reticent about revealing the exact compound, since it’s a non-patentable natural substance. According to Geron patent documents, it’s either Cycloastragenol or Astragaloside IV. (Both compounds have telomerase activating properties) Cycloastragenol is, according to Geron patents, active in the 5mg to 10mg range while Astragaloside IV is active in the 50mg to 100mg range. In fact, bottles of TA-65 are labeled simply as “Astragalus Extract” with no mention of the exact, supposedly pure, compound.Recognizing the tremendous market potential for this mystery compound, Geron licensed TA-65 to a company named TA Sciences. TA Sciences is the “official” source for the miraculous TA-65 compound. The cost? According to the TA Sciences website (2):
Let’s fire up the old calculator…Looks like, roughly, for a six month protocol, it’s going to cost nearly $8,000! Even without the bells and whistles, it’s still $4,000Cost per month: $666 to $1,333And, they recommend a full 12 months of treatment.Hmmm… I don’t think so.Let’s see if we can find the side-door to this little Fountain of Youth party, shall we?If you’re really industrious, you can do a simple Google search and find suppliers of relatively pure Cycloastragenol in bulk quantities. Most suppliers of bulk chemicals and natural products have minimum quantities, usually in kilogram increments, so your initial cost may be substantial (thousands of dollars). Then you will face the task of finding a compounding pharmacy or bottler experienced with natural products to encapsulate the raw material with an appropriate amount of filler so your dose is between 5mg and 10mg per capsule. This will likely cost a few thousand dollars more. At this point though, you would likely have enough to last several lifetimes. So then you might want to sell the excess, but you’ll need to be sure to comply with all FDA labeling requirements and obtain sufficient liability insurance and so on.One can certainly do all this, as I have done so personally with several dietary supplement formulas, but there is an easier way… You may want to consider a product called “Astral Fruit-NF” manufactured by a company called RevGenetics. A bottle of 30 capsules is guaranteed to have a minimum of 150mg of Cycloastragenol, which equates to 5mg+ per capsule. This is equivalent to what the Geron patents specify as an active dose of Cycloastragenol. Each capsule also contains two additional herbal ingredients shown to activate telomerase production. (3)Cost per month? $25 Now we’re talking. Yet another alternative is to simply buy a concentrated extract of Astragalus, of which there are many available. I prefer one made by Herb Pharm, which I wrote about in a previous HNI article. (4) Now be aware that you may or may not be getting the exact compound found in TA-65 if you consume an inexpensive, concentrated, Astragalus extract. There is a reasonable chance, however, that you will ingest enough naturally occurring telomerase-activating compounds to do the trick. I do know this… you will almost certainly notice an increase in energy and an improved sense of well-being, and it’s reasonable to assume you will benefit from an improved immune response, which is one of the documented benefits of Astragalus. (5) Cost per month? $15 or less Astragalus is a powerful herb, and as such there are a couple of caveats to keep in mind.
It also goes without saying, if you have an active cancer, taking any telomerase-promoting supplement is not recommended. It may also be a good idea to cycle on and off of any telomerase activating supplement, say for two months on and one month off.And, as always, it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor, familiar with medicinal herbs, before beginning any new herbal regimen.Live Long and Live Well,Jeff SargentTelos Labs, LLCwww.teloslaboratories.com References and Links:1) “Telomerase is not an oncogene” Calvin B Harley, Geron Corporation, Menlo Park, California, 94025, USA http://www.nature.com/onc/journal/v21/n4/full/1205076a.html 2) http://www.tasciences.com/ta-65/patton-protocol/ 3) http://www.revgenetics.com/store/p-9-astral-fruit-telomere-dna-support-supplement.aspx 4) “Astragalus… A Little Known Herb with Remarkable Effects” NHI article by Jeff Sargent http://www.naturalhealthinformer.com/natural-health/102-astragalus-a-little-known-herb-with-remarkable-effects?showall=1 5) Sloan-Kettering database entry for Astragalus http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69128.cfm
In 1933 an herbalist and martial artist named Li Ching-Yuen, died in China. He claimed he had been born in Qi Jiang Xian, a city in the Szechuan Province… in 1736.
This would put his age at 197. Other reports and official records indicate he was born even earlier, in 1677, making him 256 years old when he died.
While most “serious” scientists scoff at such claims, perhaps we should not be so quick to dismiss them out of hand. A Time Magazine article in 1930 stated that Professor Wu Chung-Chieh, from Chengdu University, found Chinese Imperial Government records, from 1827 which congratulated Li Ching-Yuen on his 150th birthday that same year, putting Li’s age at 256 when he died. (1)
Li was a devoted practitioner of the martial art of Qigong (a school of martial art focused on gathering and focusing “Qi” or “Ch’i” (the “life force” or “energy”) to protect the body from harm, and he was also an herbalist. He believed in and promoted the use of reishi mushrooms, ginseng (both of which we have written about here at NHI) (2) and other lesser known medicinal herbs, in particular, an herb called “gotu kola” (Centella asiatica).
Might gotu kola have some anti-ageing effects, similar to the effects of reishi and ginseng? It indeed appears so. The Sloan-Kettering database entry for gotu kola offers this summary of gotu kola’s medicinal effects:
“Extracts from the leaf and the entire plant of gotu kola are used for a variety of conditions including venous insufficiency, varicose veins, wound healing, scleroderma, and scars. In vivo analysis indicates that madecassoside, an active constituent of gotu kola, may have protective effects against arthritis and myocardial infarction.
Topical application of asiaticoside extracted from gotu kola enhanced burn wound healing. Gotu kola may improve cognitive function and mood in the elderly. In addition, several studies demonstrate a reduction in lower extremity edema with gotu kola as compared to placebo for patients with chronic venous insufficiency.” (3)
So in terms of gotu kola helping conditions related to ageing, we have an impressive list of possible benefits:
Is there perhaps a synergy between the adaptogenic and health-promoting effects of reishi mushrooms, ginseng and gotu kola which slows the ageing process? This is certainly possible, though difficult to prove to our modern scientific standards. (It is worth noting, many Traditional Chinese Medicines are complex combinations of several different herbs, something rarely seen in Western Herbal Medicine. Chinese herbalists appear to embrace the idea of synergy, more so than practitioners of other herbal traditions.)
Did Li Ching-Yuen really live to be 256 years old as is implied by Chinese historical records, or did he merely live to be 197 as he claimed, or some lesser tally of years? Again it is impossible to prove either way, but it does seem likely he lived to a very ripe old age and the combination of daily exercise and the use of adaptogenic herbs more than likely had a lot to do with it.
You may want to consider adding gotu kola to your anti-ageing regimen, especially if you suffer from any of the well documented age-related conditions for which it is considered beneficial.
Except for a possible interference with cholesterol-lowering medicines, gotu kola appears to be well tolerated and safe to use for most people. As always, with any medicinal herb, you may wish to consult a physician trained in herbal usage, before beginning use.
Live Long and Prosper,
Jeff Sargent, Associate Editor
References and Links:
1) Wikipedia entry for Li Ching-Yuen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_Ching-Yuen
2) Natural health Informer articles on reishi mushrooms: http://www.naturalhealthinformer.com/natural-health/immune-system/87-medicinal-mushrooms
3) Sloan-Kettering database entry for gotu kola: